It Was Written
Why are there so many errors in The Anthology of Rap? The editors respond.
Since publishing my piece last week, I've continued to spend time with the anthology and continued to find more mistakes, not limited to the following examples:
In "Duel of the Iron Mic," I believe GZA says "give praise and shout," not "give crazy shouts," as the anthology has it. In African-American religious traditions, shouting is an activity that is connected with praising the Lord. Shouting is an ecstatic or semi-ecstatic activity that may involve clapping, stomping, shaking, dancing, speaking in tongues, or conventional shouting out. In that same verse, GZA says "herbal vapors in Biblical papers," not "herbal papers and biblical papers." I think the following line—"Smoking Exodus, every square yard is plush"—makes it clear that he's using pages of the Bible for rolling papers. And later in the track, Inspectah Deck says "thugs kill for drugs," not "adults kill for drugs." All three mistakes are present in the OHHLA transcription of "Duel of the Iron Mic."
In Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones, Pt. II," Prodigy says "I'm only nineteen but my mind is older/ When the things get for real my warm heart turns cold." The anthology has the line "I'm only nineteen but my mind is old/ And when the things get for real my warm heart turns cold." The mistake makes for a less interesting rhyme, and a less artful expression of the idea that Prodigy's circumstances have caused his mind to age more quickly than his body. Listen for yourself at the 1:20 mark in the video below. The mistake is also present in the OHHLA transcription.
In Jay-Z's, "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," Jay-Z says "let the thing between my eyes analyze life's ills/ Then I put it down, type real." The anthology renders the second line "Then I put it down, type braille." Type was a popular adjective in late-'90s rap, a synonym for "very." (Cf. Prodigy, in Mobb Deep's "Give Up the Goods (Just Step)": "It's type hard trying to survive in New York state.") Jay-Z is saying his analysis of life's ills is very realistic; he is not saying that he composes in Braille—why would he do that? The mistake is also present in the OHHLA transcription. Listen for yourself at the 2:30 mark:
Did the editors rely more heavily on online transcriptions than Bradley's response suggests? Or did they simply manage to make the same mistakes as the OHHLA transcribers because the lyrics are easily misheard? Regardless of the answer, there are too many mistakes in The Anthology of Rap—something in their process, whatever it was, wasn't working. As I noted in my original piece, the editors are to be applauded for their efforts to encourage and facilitate the serious study of rap lyrics. But rap deserves a more accurate volume.
To their credit, the editors do seem committed to improving the anthology in subsequent printings and editions. In a comment on my Slate article, Adam Bradley indicated that he knew the book contained errors, and that he hoped readers would find them and help the editors improve the anthology. He wrote:
Yes, the book has transcription errors. I've found some. So has my co-editor. I hope our readers will, too. Our goal from the beginning has been to make each printing (it's about to enter its second) more accurate than the last. In fact, we have a comment section on our website designed largely for the purpose of people submitting corrections for future print runs: http://www.anthologyofrap.com/contact/
It's admirable that the editors admit their book is imperfect and have pledged to improve it. (Though if you visit the "contact" page Bradley links to, it doesn't in any way indicate that its purpose is to submit errors to the editors.) Let's help them make the next book bulletproof. Note any errors you find in The Anthology of Rap in the comments section below, or e-mail me with your findings at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perhaps with our help, the folks who fork out $35 for the second edition will get a better product—and scholars of rap will have a better resource to use in their studies.
Paul Devlin is a regular contributer to The Root and the editor of Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones (2011).